If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.
There has been a power surge of late among several Mississippians, notably Bobby Bradley, Austin Riley and Hunter Renfroe. Bradley, the former Harrison Central High star, has begun to mash at Triple-A Columbus in Cleveland’s system. The 22-year-old first baseman has four homers in his last four games, three in his last two. A .366 spurt over his last 10 games has boosted his average to .315 with seven homers and 20 RBIs in his first full season at the Triple-A level. “It’s really a great experience, you learn so much from the veteran guys,” Bradley said in an milb.com story. Riley, the DeSoto Central product, hit two more bombs for Triple-A Gwinnett (Atlanta) on Wednesday. That’s 10 in his last 13 games, during which he has batted an absurd .469. He is at .315 with 12 homers and 32 RBIs. “Obviously, I’m seeing the ball well,” he told milb.com. “I’ve worked really hard on getting my swing where it is now.” Renfroe, the ex-Copiah Academy and Mississippi State standout, hit a go-ahead home run for the San Diego Padres on Wednesday. He also hit a tie-breaking bomb on Monday and a walk-off grand slam on Sunday. “He’s clutch. And he has been for a long time,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. Renfroe now has nine homers on the year, second to Mitch Moreland’s 10 among Mississippians in the majors. P.S. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is 2-for-8 (.125 for year) since coming off the injured list for the Los Angeles Angels, who also designated MSU product Chris Stratton for assignment on Tuesday. Stratton, who’ll likely land in Triple-A, has an 8.59 ERA in seven appearances. … Tony Sipp, the veteran reliever out of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, went on the 10-day IL for Washington with a strained oblique.
The proverbial injury bug continues to plague Zack Cozart. The former Ole Miss star has landed on the 10-day Injured List for the Los Angeles Angels with a stiff neck, which he hurt diving into a base on Monday. He also missed time in spring training with a calf injury. Considering the miserable start (.109, four RBIs in 23 games) he is off to, maybe some downtime will help. Cozart missed a big chunk of 2018, his first season with the Angels, because of a shoulder injury. He was an All-Star in Cincinnati in 2017, when he was relatively injury-free, but ended both the 2016 and 2015 seasons on the old DL with knee injuries. … Cozart joins a small crowd of Mississippians on the IL: Corey Dickerson, Mike Mayers, Bobby Wahl and Kendall Graveman. Dickerson, the ex-Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College standout, has been out since April 4 with a shoulder injury; he is expected to begin a rehab assignment for Pittsburgh soon. Ole Miss alum Mayers, now with St. Louis, has a lat strain that may keep him down until July. Wahl, another ex-Rebels star with Milwaukee, tore an ACL in the spring and is likely out for the season, while Mississippi State product Graveman, signed as a free agent by the Chicago Cubs, had Tommy John surgery last July and could return late this season.
With opening day a mere two days away, Chris Stratton finds himself on a new team. Stratton, a former Mississippi State star from Tupelo, was traded late Monday from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Angels. “I’m definitely in shock,” the right-hander told the San Francisco Chronicle. Stratton, a former first-round pick who has a 4.63 ERA over three MLB campaigns, did not win a job in the Giants’ rotation this spring. (Former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz, a free agent signee, took one of those spots.) Stratton is out of minor league options, so rather than run him through waivers, the Giants worked a trade with the Angels for lefty Williams Jerez. At some point, Stratton may get a shot at a starting job with the Angels, who play their last exhibition game tonight at Dodger Stadium. … Kudos to Spencer Turnbull and Brandon Woodruff, who have officially earned spots in the rotation with Detroit and Milwaukee, respectively. Madison Central alum Turnbull is slotted as the Tigers’ No. 3 and will work at Toronto on Saturday. Woodruff, a State product from Wheeler, will pitch one of the three weekend games in Milwaukee against St. Louis. … Cool moment on MLB Network Monday night: Ex-Ole Miss star Aaron Barrett made his first appearance at Washington’s Nationals Park in four years and got a rousing ovation. The right-hander, battling back from a series of injuries, including a broken arm, worked in the exhibition game against the New York Yankees. In camp as a non-roster invitee, Barrett posted a 6.75 ERA in seven games; he’ll start the year in the minors.
Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, is playing like a man on a mission in the Cactus League this spring. He went 2-for-3 on Thursday and is now 11-for-22 with a homer, six RBIs and five runs for the Chicago White Sox. When the White Sox were courting Manny Machado, there was speculation that Anderson would lose his shortstop job to the touted free agent. The outspoken Anderson, the team’s starter at short since 2016, wasn’t about to just step aside. “He knew what he could do, and he was going … to show everybody that he was going to hold on to that particular position,” ChiSox manager Rick Renteria recently told the Northwest (Chicago) Herald. Machado signed with San Diego. The White Sox will be just fine at shortstop, as Anderson himself would tell you. “(T)he sky’s the limit. I’m excited where I’m at and the direction I’m headed,” he told the Northwest Herald. He hit .240 with 20 homers and 26 steals last season. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier and Meridian CC alum Corey Dickerson, top-of-the-order hitters in Pittsburgh’s lineup, also have hit the ground running this spring. Frazier homered Thursday and is 2-for-5 in his two games, while Dickerson is 5-for-9 in three games after a 2-for-3 day in the Grapefruit League. P.S. After finishing last season on the disabled list, there’s a chance ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart will start this season on what is now being called the injured list. Vying this spring to start at either third base or second for the Los Angeles Angels, Cozart has been diagnosed with a Grade 1 left calf strain and reportedly will be out for a few weeks. The season starts March 28. Cozart, 33, was scratched from the Angels’ lineup with tightness in his calf last Sunday and is receiving treatment. He played just 58 games in 2018 – after signing as a free agent — because of a left shoulder injury that required surgery. Early in camp, he was rarin’ to go. “I was actually shocked, in a good way, how good I felt so early,” he told the Orange County Register just after reporting. “It’s doing great.” The calf injury is quite a blow.
Jarrod Dyson, who missed the second half of the 2018 season with a groin injury, has yet to appear in a spring training game for Arizona because of another injury: a strained left oblique. The 34-year-old McComb native reportedly hurt himself playing catch earlier this week. Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo told mlb.com: “He’s not going to miss a big chunk of time.” Still, oblique injuries can be tricky, and Dyson has a history of hurts. In 2017, with Seattle, he hit .251 with 28 bags while missing the last few weeks of the season with another groin injury. He also had an oblique issue in Kansas City in 2016, when he had his best MLB campaign, batting .278 with 30 steals. He won a ring with the ’15 Royals. In his second season with Arizona, Dyson is expected to back up Ketel Marte in center field and also play a role as a pinch runner and hitter. In 67 games last year, Dyson batted .189 with 16 steals. P.S. Mitch Moreland has yet to appear in a game for Boston, but the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory isn’t hurt. Red Sox manager Alex Cora reportedly is holding back some of the older veterans. Moreland, 33, played 124 games last year and 11 more during the long postseason for the world champion BoSox. … Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart was back in the lineup today for the Los Angeles Angels after being scratched from a Monday start as a precaution over shoulder soreness. Cozart is coming back from shoulder surgery that curtailed his 2018 season.
Zack Cozart is in comeback mode as he enters Year 2 of his 3-year, $38 million free agent contract with the Los Angeles Angels. The 2018 season was a big disappointment for the ex-Ole Miss standout. He hit .219 with five home runs in 58 games and was done following shoulder surgery in June. In 2017, his last year in Cincinnati, he put up career numbers (.297, 24 homers, 63 RBIs) and made the All-Star Game at shortstop. The Angels signed him, initially to play second base, then shifting him to third. Heading into spring training, it’s unclear where Cozart, now 33, will play or if he’ll even play full-time. The team depth chart on mlb.com lists him at both second and third. Younger players are nipping at his heels. From halohangout.com: “His 2017 season was a fluke in many ways, from his sudden explosion of power to his ability to hit for average and even his durability.” With Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Justin Upton in the lineup, the Angels are an intriguing club desperate to make the postseason. They’d no doubt welcome a return to 2017 form from Cozart. P.S. Asked at a recent team event about the Chicago White Sox’s pursuit of Manny Machado, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had this to say to mlb.com: “He would play a great role in what we are trying to do as far as winning a championship. He definitely brings that talent.” Machado’s preferred position is shortstop, which happens to be where Anderson has played, very capably, the past three seasons. … Former DeSoto Central star Austin Riley is on the MLB Pipeline list of the Top 10 third base prospects for a fourth straight year, checking in at No. 3 in 2019. He has 71 homers over four minor league seasons and finished 2018 with 12 in 75 games at Triple-A Gwinnett. The 21-year-old’s path to The Show is currently blocked by veteran Josh Donaldson, signed as a free agent by Atlanta in November.
Travis Demeritte is one of the most intriguing players on the Mississippi Braves’ roster. He is a former first-round draft pick. He has played in an All-Star Futures Game and two minor league all-star games. He has hit as many as 28 homers in a season and swiped as many as 17 bases in a season. He stands 6 feet, weighs 180 pounds and can play second base, third and left field. MLB Pipeline rates him the 19th-best prospect in a strong Atlanta system. Yet many M-Braves fans must be wondering, When is Demeritte going to break out? With roughly a month and a half left in his second Double-A campaign, Demeritte is hitting .221 with 11 homers and four bags. He has struck out an even 100 times in 308 at-bats. If the M-Braves, currently 15-14 and 6 games out of first, are going to make any kind of run at a playoff spot in the Southern League South, more production from the 23-year-old Demeritte would be a big help. When the Braves acquired him from Texas (for two pitching prospects) in the summer of 2016, the trade generated some buzz. Demeritte was batting .272 with 25 homers and 13 steals in 88 games in the Class A California League. He added three homers and four steals in 35 games for the Braves’ high-A club. But he did punch out a bunch, and that trend continued in his Double-A debut last year. He hit 15 homers in 124 games – and made the SL All-Star Game – but all in all, it was a disappointing year. There hasn’t been much to shout about in 2018, either, but there is still time – for him and his club. The M-Braves begin a stretch of 10 straight home games tonight, facing Mobile at Trustmark Park. P.S. One of Mobile’s hottest hitters is Jack Kruger, the ex-Mississippi State star drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2016. Kruger, a catcher, has hit .333 his last 10 games and is at .308 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 25 games. He was promoted to Double-A Mobile on June 21, when Meridian Community College alum Wade Wass, also a catcher, retired and opened a roster spot.
This year was going to be different for Zack Cozart. After enduring four straight losing seasons in Cincinnati, the ex-Ole Miss star signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels, a star-studded club expected to contend for the postseason. If the Angels do make the playoffs, Cozart will only be watching. The team announced Wednesday night that the veteran infielder will have season-ending shoulder surgery. The news broke during the Angels’ game at Boston, and MLB Network analyst Tom Verducci called it “a key injury” for the team, which is winning but still searching for top-of-the-lineup consistency. “That’s another option that is gone now,” Verducci said. Cozart, a 2017 National League All-Star who batted .297 with 24 homers for the Reds, had been slow to adjust to his new league, batting .219 with five homers in 58 games. He had started at third base, second and shortstop. This is the second major injury for the 32-year-old in four years; he missed most of the 2015 season with a knee.
This weekend’s Subway Series is the first for Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway as New York Mets manager. The scuffling Mets, losers of six straight, host the rampaging Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — for three games at CitiField, all coming to a TV network near you. Mississippi State product Jonathan Holder (2.75 ERA) has done good work out of the Yankees’ bullpen. … An injury to Andrelton Simmons has meant a return to shortstop for Zack Cozart. The Ole Miss alum, signed by the Los Angeles Angels in the off-season to man third base, actually has moved about quite a bit on the dirt for L.A. He has 32 starts at third, 15 at second and five at short, the position he played for seven seasons with Cincinnati. Simmons, who could be out 2-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, might be the best defensive shortstop in the game, but Cozart is no slouch. In fact, Angels manager Mike Scioscia called him an “incredible shortstop.” What the Angels would like to see is a little more offense from their $38 million free agent, who is batting .229 with five homers and 18 RBIs. … Tonight, Cozart and the Angels will face Minnesota’s Lance Lynn, another former Rebels star. Lynn, also an off-season free agent signee, is 4-4 with a 5.46 for the Twins and has won three starts in a row. Worth noting: Cozart is .128 career vs. Lynn. … Arizona’s acquisition of outfielder Jon Jay might cut into Jarrod Dyson’s playing time. McComb native Dyson is hitting just .206 (with 10 steals) overall but is at .318 in his last seven games. And his defense is top-drawer. … Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Daniel Sweet, the Flowood native and former Northwest Rankin High star who plays for Pensacola, which is in Pearl for a five-game Southern League series against the Mississippi Braves. Sweet, a switch-hitting outfielder, is in his third season in the Cincinnati organization after being drafted out of Dallas Baptist. He is hitting .148 in 25 games for the Blue Wahoos in his first taste of Double-A. He was batting .284 in A-ball when he was promoted. … Tyler Marlette has been on a tear for the M-Braves, batting .382 in his last 10 games and .296 with six homers for the year. First baseman Marlette, 25, named to the SL All-Star Game on Wednesday, signed with Atlanta in the off-season after seven years in the Seattle organization. He is a career .272 hitter with 68 homers.